As many of my readers know, Kate Spade decided to take her own life early last week. My husband asked me how I was handling it. At first, I thought I was handling it fine – it was a non-event. I don’t know her. I don’t follow fashion. Yes, I’d heard of Kate Spade and even invested in one of her designs years ago. But, her death meant nothing to me. Until this morning ….
I am currently struggling with a manic phase. If you’ve ever experienced that “high” that comes with confidence, excess energy, a desire to live life in adventure, then you’ve tasted mania. I’m super productive, super awake, super creative. I’m an energizer bunny. Nice. Really nice.
A manic phase is a nice place to be. Until the consequences hit. The batteries in the bunny eventually run low and then die out.
Kate Spade’s decision and then all the news that’s swirling around, may be the beginning of my battery dying. People are judging her, her husband, her marriage, her parenting. They are wondering why someone like that (money, power, fame) would ever be depressed. How do I know that’s happening – because I’m doing it too? I can’t get over that she made this decision with a 13-year-old girl in the picture! And yet …
My first attempt as an adult was when my son was in 10thgrade and my daughter would have been in first grade. Age 15 and 5. So, yes, I understand Kate Spade’s urge. I can’t speak to her experience – but I will tell you that one of my motivations at that time was a belief that my children would be better off without me. I was an emotional mess – I was temperamental – I was exactly what my mother had been when I was a kid. My poor children never knew what “mother” they would face and therefore we all walked on eggshells.
I didn’t write a note – maybe because I knew I would cry for help before it was too late (I called my husband within minutes of the attempt), and the note might have prevented that call for help. But I’ve wondered if the note Kate Spade wrote gave her more courage to follow-through. When I go back and read some of my journal entries during those low times, I see that my writings often reinforced my negative self-image. I didn’t spend time trying to “pull out”. I spent time wallowing, proving my worthlessness. I try, then, to imagine what I would have written to my kids. I suppose I would have told them I was doing this, in part, for their benefit. Do you see how that would reinforce my desire to go that final step?
There is something powerful about seeing my words, my handwriting. If I had written a note to my kids, it would have been filled with all the ways I failed them or the ways I was damaging them or the ways I was preventing them from reaching their potential. Proof in my own handwriting that I needed to take that step. I told my husband once that taking an anti-depressant – that tiny pink pill – was tangible evidence that I couldn’t cope, that I wasn’t normal, that I was damaged/wrong/broken. I expect that my own words in my own hand would be even more tangible, more condemning, more fuel for the fire.
Some of you are judging me – thinking how selfish that is, how short-sighted, how wrong. Yes, you are right on all three. But in that pit, the picture is different. Darker. A sucking-mud that pulls on your soul. Please, if you’ve never been in that pit, do the following: 1) thank whatever deity you trust; 2) don’t judge those that have been. That adage about not understanding unless you’ve walked in someone’s shoes is very important to remember and so incredibly apropos in this circumstance.
On Good Morning America this morning (June 7), they spoke about talking to your loved ones if you are worried. They touted the Suicide Prevention Hotline. They spoke of how many people suffer. That’s excellent advice all-around BUT – and again, I speak only of my own experience – the opening to the pit is tiny. You – you well-meaning, wonderful friends and family – may not fit through the opening. I went through months of deep despair on several different occasions. No one knew. Or no one knew how deep I was buried*. And I would absolutely NOT have been receptive to intervention – I would have been defensive, blaming, projecting, proving you wrong – I would have used any tactic in my arsenal to get you to leave me alone.
Remember, when I was in that deep pit, I firmly believed I DESERVED it.
My husband is amazing. He is attentive. He knows me and my moods and still I could hide it. Oh, he knew I was “down” – but he had no idea how deep. And, when he tried to talk to me about it, he faced a volcano. He approached at his own risk. Now – after 26 years together – he sees more and he accepts that risk. He doesn’t back down and he forces me to open and seek help. But that’s taken 26 years and lots of struggle. When he does take that approach, he knows it will be a long battle with lots of painful words and accusations. It takes courage to force that battle.
I’ve contemplated suicide on numerous occasions and actually attempted it once. I hope the Suicide Prevention Hotline is a well-used service. I hope others find that bravery, that willingness, to dig out of the pit. On only one occasion did I consider calling the Hotline. I remember pressing the numbers but I could not find the courage to press dial. I was afraid – it’s a level of vulnerability beyond what most can grasp. I cannot articulate all the fears associated with making that call.
I don’t know. Every person is different. If you believe someone is in danger then you must act. But understand that you are likely entering a warzone and you will not come out of it unscathed – on a personal level and on a relationship level. Just ask my husband!
It’s likely the person you attempt to help will 1) deny; 2) be angry, defensive; 3) turn the tables and blame you; 4) fall to pieces and cling; 5) be embarrassed (you can be sure of this one); 6) run. You can expect an explosion of one type or another. You will watch this person scurry away to hide. You will watch this person lash out. You will witness a level of pain that might shock you.
If you don’t feel equipped – find someone who is. I have no idea how to give advice here either. I’m lucky – I have a therapist-extraordinaire and my husband could reach out to her any time. Maybe a parent, a spouse, an adult child, a minister. But, those all have risks too.
I don’t know how that Hotline works, but call it.
I wish I had the answer – I wish someone did. All I ask is that you don’t judge what anyone else is experiencing because you don’t know, you can’t understand, you never walked in their specific shoes. No one can walk in your shoes either. So please do not make assumptions. In part, it’s that judgment, that stigma, that keeps people who are hurting from reaching out for help.
The sufferer is already judge, jury and executioner. You don’t need to add to their list of crimes. When you judge or make assumptions, all you do is send the person deeper into despair. You give them more fuel.
Back to Mrs. Spade. Her pain is over now. It’s beginning in earnest for those left behind.
Sitting here today, I’m not struggling with the decision to end it all. And from this perspective, I see the selfishness in her act. But, I remember sitting with that bottle of pills and firmly believing that I was being totally selfless.
I wish I could tell them that even though it seems selfish – in her depressed mind, she was being selfless. I strongly suspect that she was trying to protect them – from herself.
The day after I wrote the blog, I awoke to discover Anthony Bourdain had succumbed to his depression too. For some reason -- maybe because I like his show -- I found his death even more painful. Anyway, I read this article and wanted to share because this author/doctor gives a more thorough look at this topic. He mentions that a person who does finally do the act gets past the worry about pain, guilt and shame. That hit me as "exactly right" -- at least in personal experience.
Above I stated that my husband didn’t realize when I was deep in the pit. Most of you know, he edits these blogs for me. It’s been an awesome way for us to “talk” over issues. Here is what he wrote about that statement:
"FYI: That’s probably true – but I knew. But, often had no idea what to do – especially when we were younger and less experienced / knowledgeable."
I hope those of you who are family members find that comforting. There are no easy answers.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....